Frankfurt Appellate Court says online demonstration is not coercion

By EDRi · June 7, 2006

The collective blockade of a corporate website in the context of a
political event is not violence or coercion but legitimate free
expression, a German Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt decided on 22 May.

The decision came almost five years after the online demonstration took
place. The groups “Libertad” and “Kein Mensch ist illegal” (No Human is
Illegal) had called for an online blockade of Lufthansa’s website to
protest against the company’s participation in the deportation of
asylum-seekers. With a script- (client-) based distributed denial of
service attack, the Lufthansa web servers were supposed to be blocked
during the annual company’s shareholders assembly on 20 June 2001. Though
Lufthansa was mostly able to adapt to the protest by renting more
bandwidth for that day, the event created significant public interest.
13000 people participated in the demonstration, the Federal Ministry of
Justice publicly questioned its legality, and others even spoke about
“computer sabotage”. The online demonstration was accompanied by an
offline protest at the shareholders assembly venue. The organizers had
tried to register the online protest with the authorities beforehand like
a normal demonstration, but had been rejected.

While the organizers called the demonstration a modern form of non-violent
blockade and referred to their constitutional right to freedom of
assembly, Lufthansa and the Frankfurt public attorney saw in it a call to
coercion. The offices of Frankfurt-based group Libertad were searched and
computers seized, and the main official organizer, Andreas-Thomas Vogel,
was indicted. Investigations were led by the state security branch of the
police and the attorney’s office. The Frankfurt district court convicted
Vogel to a fine in summer 2005, and ruled that the demonstration equalled
coercion against Lufthansa and other website visitors.

The first criminal chamber of the Frankfurt Appelate Court now dropped all
charges and ruled (No. 1 Ss 319/05) that the demonstration was
in fact no violence or coercion, but had been targeted at influencing
public opinion. Therefore it was legal. Libertad spokesman Hans-Peter
Kartenberg commented: “The Internet, in spite of its virtuality, is a real
public space. Where dirty deals are made, there you can and must also
protest against them.” This ruling will be important in the future
development in this legal field, as this trial had been the first criminal
case about online demonstrations in Germany.

Decision by the Frankfurt Appellate Court (in German only, 22.05.2006)

Statement by Libertad on the ruling (in German only, 1.06.2006)

Higher Regional Court says online demonstration is not force
In German (1.06.2006)
In English (2.06.2006)

(Contribution by Ralf Bendrath, EDRi-member Netzwerk Neue Medien, Germany)